Sacha Romanovitch said it was important for women to maintain their femininity and refuse to become a “she-man” in a bid to further career progression.
“One of the things that happened when I was promoted to partner was people saying ‘that’s really great because I thought you would have to be a she-man to be promoted’”, she said.
Romanovitch added that the popular current model of leadership favours “typically male characteristics”.
“Earlier in my career, someone said to me that my challenge was that I was not male, middle-aged and balding,” she revealed candidly, while speaking at the Girls’ Day School Trust conference.
Her background included a master’s degree in chemistry from Oxford, before qualifying as an ACA, and she joined her current company in 1990. In late 2014, Romanovitch became the first woman to take the lead at a major accountancy firm.
While much has been made of just what is the “correct” persona needed for women to succeed, Romanovitch said people should embrace whatever their personality is. “You have to get the confidence to celebrate your difference rather than try to conform to something that you may never be,” she said.
Admitting that at the beginning of her career, she too had “tried to figure out how to fit in” with senior colleagues – predominantly middle-aged men, but said compromising on aspects of your self shouldn’t be a prerequisite before progressing.
“You used to find me in a trouser suit, definitely with my hair scraped back, no makeup and glasses if possible. It’s that stripping back and denying your femininity,” she explained.
As an incoming CEO of a high-profile company, Romanovitch also discussed her work/life balance – she works in London during the week and lives in Devon. Her husband looks after their two sons full-time.
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Family is another topic she feels strongly about – telling the conference that women shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about their children at work.
Energy spent maintaining an image that wasn’t really your true self, could be better invested in “creative solutions, putting your hands up for new projects and those sorts of things”.
Discussing internal efforts to try and help everyone flourish at Grant Thornton, Romanovitch said employees are encouraged to listen rather than just “trampling on others to make sure your voice is heard”.
She hopes opening up dialogue will help foster a “new model of leadership that brings all the voices into the room”.
Find out more about our First Women Awards, the UK’s premium awards programme focused on senior-level business women and professionals. The awards are hosted by the CBI and Real Business, and are held in association with Lloyds Banking Group.
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